Oh, my poor, sweet television darlings, I hope you’re in the mood for lots of sighing and vague feelings of ennui this fall. Many of the season’s best new shows share a certain tone of sadness — sometimes grim, sometime subversively comic, but always a little overcast. Blame the times we live in. Blame “This Is Us.” In any event, grab your favorite blankie and cuddle up for these 10 shows that I think are the most worth your time.
(Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime; premiered Sept. 9) This melancholy dramedy stars Jim Carrey as Mr. Pickles, the beloved Mister Rogers-like host of a long-running children’s show, whose calm and nurturing public persona is undermined by a recent tragedy (the death of one of his twin sons in a car crash) and a split from his wife (Judy Greer), who says she can’t live up to her husband’s reputation as everyone’s emotional hero. Frank Langella and Catherine Keener are excellent as Mr. Pickles’s colleagues (and frosty family members), who worry about the show’s future more than its host’s well-being. Although it’s not what anyone would call a joyful watch, “Kidding” is a provocative and often heartbreakingly funny exploration of hero worship, grief and coping. It’s also Carrey’s best work in years.
(Amazon, Friday, Sept. 14) Not long after I started watching this exquisite eight-episode dramedy from Alan Yang (“Master of None”) and Matt Hubbard, I realized why the folks at Amazon have been so intent on keeping a lid on its central premise. It seems like a show about two nice, normal suburban yuppies named Oscar and June Hoffman (SNL chums Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph, in fine form) who are stuck in a marital rut. Then, in a major swerve, “Forever” becomes a much deeper and almost philosophical look at the concept of eternal love. Seeking to shake things up, the Hoffmans skip their annual vacation at their lake house and go to a ski resort instead. The trip changes the course of their lives profoundly — at first for the better, until June realizes she’s still dissatisfied being with Oscar. Not only is “Forever” one of the best shows of the year, I’d make it mandatory viewing for couples considering marriage.
“The Hunt for the Trump Tapes”
(Viceland at 10:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 18) At 59, actor-comedian Tom Arnold has become a hyper-exasperated celebrity citizen journalist who is intent on finding and publicizing all the recorded instances of President Trump’s alleged offensive remarks about women and minorities — dating to when Trump was just a heat-seeking attention hound (like Arnold) and not the leader of the free world. The search takes Arnold from the archives of Howard Stern’s radio show to an attempt to learn more about the locked-down, unused footage from all those seasons of NBC’s “Apprentice” franchise. With even bigger talk about finding the Holy Grail (the “pee tape” that so animates the president’s enemies), Arnold’s haphazard methods can come across as somewhat pathetic. But he more than makes up for it with a wild expression of patriotic determination. And besides, what are other celebs doing about perceived constitutional crises, besides whining?
“Sorry for Your Loss”
(Facebook Watch, Tuesday, Sept. 18) You’d think Facebook wouldn’t have time to be making TV shows, but this risky, 10-episode, half-hour drama created by Kit Steinkellner won me over with its authentic wallow in grief — the stages of which are never as clean as they’re purported to be. Elizabeth Olsen (known to most as the Scarlet Witch in Marvel’s “Avengers” movie franchise) stars as Leigh, a young woman devastated by the unexpected death of her husband, Matt (Mamoudou Athie). Leigh leans on her somewhat self-absorbed mother, Amy (Janet McTeer), and recovering-addict sister, Jules (“The Last Jedi’s” Kelly Marie Tran), for whatever support she can get. At group-therapy sessions for grieving spouses, Leigh is easily unhinged — by the decision to replace the usual doughnuts with healthy snacks, for example, or by the effusive platitude-speak from the perky widow of a fallen soldier. It’s not a lighthearted binge, but “Sorry for Your Loss” works because it’s as interested in Leigh’s healing as it is in her suffering.
(Netflix, Friday, Sept. 21) From creator Patrick Somerville and director Cary Joji Fukunaga (“True Detective”), this oddly mesmerizing, 10-episode drama is set in an alternate future/present of Atari-age technology within a Wes Anderson-like aesthetic, by way of a 1980s Walmart. Jonah Hill (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) and Emma Stone (“La La Land”) star as Owen and Annie, strangers who volunteer to participate in a highly classified pharmacological trial for a series of pills that could cure mental illness. Justin Theroux (“The Leftovers”) co-stars as the deeply troubled mastermind behind the experiment, and Sally Field has a good time playing his overbearing mother. “Maniac” starts off too absorbed in its own complicated structure, but once Owen and Annie are strapped in at the lab (and experience an accidental melding of their subconscious states), the show becomes a visually compelling romp through highly detailed dreams and personal discoveries.
“A Million Little Things”
(ABC at 10 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 26) If you believe in the treacle-down theory when it comes to NBC’s rip-roaring success with “This Is Us,” then you’re ready for ABC’s drama about the emotional entanglements of a group of four Boston men (Ron Livingston, Romany Malco, David Giuntoli and James Roday) feeling all the feels that bros can feel when their best bro jumps from his skyscraper office balcony in the middle of a workday, without leaving a note. “A Million Little Things” comes on a tad too strong in its setup: The suicide has the surviving guys, along with their spouses and significant others, wondering how someone so happy and successful could take his own life — even though one of them was on the verge of doing the same thing. Turns out each man (they all originally met in a stalled elevator) carries around his fair share of angst about the biggies: marriage, sex, family, sickness, success. They’re keeping secrets from one another, too, so here come the flashbacks and breakthroughs.
(CBS at 9:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 27) Expect some complaints from the right that “Murphy Brown,” which ran on CBS from 1988 to 1998, is welcomed back with hearty huzzahs, while this year’s “Roseanne” revival invited heaps of scorn because its star and lead character voted for President Trump. ’Tis true — in the new-old “Murphy Brown” (episodes of which have not yet been made available to critics), Candice Bergen’s outspoken news anchor is compelled by recent events to return as a morning-show host in a markedly different media landscape of social-media outrages, “fake news” and all that. Although some things have changed (Murphy’s son, Avery, is all grown up and works for the competing — and conservative — Wolf News Channel), Murphy is rejoined by old “FYI” colleagues Corky, Frank and Miles (Faith Ford, Joe Regalbuto and Grant Shaud). As this 13-episode season progresses, creator Diane English promises to narrow its turnaround schedule to a week or less, keeping the show as topical as possible. Strap in, fans.
(Amazon, Friday, Oct. 12) Recommending shows that I haven’t seen a single minute of is certainly not my preferred method of TV criticism. But “The Romanoffs” can’t help but make a must-see list (whether it’s any good or not), simply for being creator Matthew Weiner’s first series since “Mad Men.” Billed as a contemporary story that takes place in different spots around the globe, it’s an eight-episode anthology drama about people who claim to be descendants of the last czar of Russia (executed with his family in 1918). The size and quality of the cast list is reason alone to give it a whirl: In addition to “Mad Men’s” John Slattery and Christina Hendricks, look for Diane Lane, Aaron Eckhart, Griffin Dunne, Andrew Rannells, Amanda Peet, Isabelle Huppert, Paul Reiser, Annet Mahendru, Corey Stoll, Noah Wyle and more. After a double-episode premiere Oct. 12, remaining episodes will stream weekly. That’s all I really know, for now.
(HBO at 10 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 14) “Girls” collaborators Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner have adapted the British version of this comedy into a wickedly funny, unnerving eight-episode romp about an anxiety-ridden control freak, Kathryn (Jennifer Garner, in her first series work since “Alias”), who organizes a weekend camping trip among friends to celebrate the 45th birthday of her easygoing husband Walt (“Broadchurch’s” David Tennant). Kathryn is the sort of busybody who likes to tell people when and how to have fun; almost immediately, her best-laid plans are thwarted by the arrival of Jandice (Juliette Lewis, in full Juliette Lewis mode), the free-spirited girlfriend of recently separated Miguel (Arturo Del Puerto). As the group splashes in after a naked Jandice hops into the lake, Kathryn complains that she had scheduled a swimming excursion for a different day. “Camping” expertly explores the very particular suffering of passive-aggressive people — like a Carolyn Hax column come to life.
(PBS stations at 9 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 23) Despite an especially daunting premise, this beautifully informative four-part documentary manages to get a handle on the vast, 15,000-year story of indigenous people who shaped North and South America. Combining modern scholarship with impressive access to tribal history and traditions, the series starts off with the earliest evidence of America’s “first peoples” (finding answers everywhere from Amazonian cave paintings to New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon) and works its way through the rise of great cities and territories. It’s a mega-history that’s rich with technological achievements, environmental stewardship, self-governance and profound spirituality. Each story tends to lead to other mysteries, but what’s striking about “Native America” is its reluctance to let tragedy and loss become the default setting — although certainly that is palpable, especially in the final episode, which focuses on resistance and revival. “Native America” is a revealing celebration of culture and innovation.
Some other picks this fall:
“You” (Lifetime, Sundays at 10); “Jane Fonda in Five Acts” (HBO, Sept. 24); “Into the Dark” (Hulu, Oct. 5); “The Kids Are Alright” (ABC, Oct. 16); “The Rookie” (ABC, Oct. 16); and “Homecoming” (Amazon, Nov. 2).
And some new shows you can totally skip:
“God Friended Me,” “Magnum P.I .” and “Happy Together” (CBS); “Manifest,” “I Feel Bad” and “New Amsterdam” (NBC); “Single Parents” (ABC); and “The Cool Kids” (Fox).
Disclosure: The Washington Post is owned by Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos.